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Saturday, January 22, 2022

UC Davis became the first public university in the U.S. to add caste as a protected class

While this is seen as a win for caste equality, many on campus want more than a quiet addition to the anti-discrimination policy 

By JENNIFER MA — campus@theaggie.org 

 

In September, UC Davis became the first public university in the U.S. — and the first campus in the UC system — to add caste as a protected class in its anti-discrimination policy. This decision was in partnership with caste-oppressed community members and part of a larger national movement for caste equity.

The caste system, a hereditary system that separates people into distinct social groups with varying privileges and limitations, dates back thousands of years to ancient India. These dictate important aspects of life for many people, such as their occupations, their schools and where they can worship. Typically, those that are caste-oppressed have limited social mobility and face discrimination.

UC Davis community members that have been part of the campaign for caste equity and members who have been affected by casteism on campus recognize that making caste a protected class is a significant step. Some believe, however, that there is more work to be done. 

Specifically, some community members voice their concerns on the lack of communication from campus administration to let students know what this addition means. Currently, there is no place to file a report of casteism on campus online. Students can report hate, bias discrimination and harrassment they have experienced or witnessed, but casteism is not an option. Students who have experienced casteism must select the category “national origin.” 

“Davis’ whole focus is on making a safe environment for pursuing our education and for students like me, who have suffered through [casteism], it’s not a safe environment and it can impede on our education,” a caste-oppressed fourth-year student said. “It almost in a sense feels performative if they’re not going to take actions against [perpetrators of casteism].”

The student outlined the actions they want campus administration to take to better support caste-oppressed students. 

“Some sort of diversity training would be very helpful, support systems for students to be able to report this, some sort of counselor […] and taking it […] a bit more seriously,” they said. “Not acting like this is only an issue that affects a very small population but actually realizing this affects a big student population.” 

Danésha Nichols, the director of UC Davis’ Harassment and Discrimination Assistance and Prevention Program (HDAPP), provided a statement on behalf of the university, including the chancellor, regarding the perceived lack of communication. 

“We were in the process of doing standard updates to our local nondiscrimination policy and thought this would be a great opportunity to make it clear that our policy prohibited discrimination on the basis of caste,” the statement reads. “The update was part of a regular policy review process, and that is why no formal announcement was made.”  

The statement also mentions HDAPP’s plans to update educational materials to spread the word. Along with this, the university’s Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion is working on integrating information about caste as a protected class onto their website and beyond. 

  A third year psychology and communication double major shared how they think students themselves can help support caste-oppressed students.

“Really taking the time to learn and educate yourself about these issues is a great way to learn more about caste and learn about what it means to have caste as a protected category,” they said. “It’s so easy to learn about these issues. We’re at a public research university, first of all, so you have access to so many amazing professors. And you can also, of course, learn about these issues through social media. There’s so many organizations that have been raising awareness about caste so that’s also another option to learn more about this issue.” 

Nine Middle Eastern, North African and South Asian (MENASA) student organizations and elected representatives from the BASED slate within ASUCD have also come together to pen an open letter to the campus community regarding their experiences with casteism and how everyone can work towards change.

“If we look at caste, I think it helps us broaden our understanding of power and privilege,” a leader in the caste protections campaign said. “We can’t be an anti-racist space if we’re not looking internally in our community.”

 

Written by: Jennifer Ma — campus@theaggie.org  

 

Editor’s note: The students interviewed requested anonymity due to fears of retaliation and harassment.  

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